As I was driving into the DC United game last week, to join 47,000 other fans, I was listening to the Sports Reporters on SportsTalk 980. That number -- 47,000 -- is way more people than listen to the Sports Reporters broadcast as an aside. I was disappointed to hear Steve and Andy basically questioning why people would go to a DC United game and why is it that the community would turn out in such droves to watch David Beckham play?For those outside of DC, Leonsis is the majority owner of the Washington Capitals hockey team, a team that often suffers from a dearth of coverage by the chuckleheads at the Sports Reporters. While Leonsis has a point, and apparently it didn't stop the United game, there is a reason why DC United and indeed much of American soccer doesn't get the coverage--the major sports reporters and columnists don't give a damn!!
They made fun of the regular attendance of DC United which averages about 19,000 per game. They questioned whether soccer would make it in America. They basically parroted every cliché about soccer and MLS that we have heard through the years. There was a sarcastic mention equating soccer fans to hockey fans. They made mention that teen girls and soccer moms were all attending this game as if that was a bad thing. They lost sight of the fact that DC loves an event and that David Beckham is probably the world's most recognized athlete, ahead of even Tiger Woods. All I could think of was:
Isn't SportsTalk 980 an all sports network? Shouldn't they be celebrating this game as an event? Shouldn't they be promising all of the people listening to the broadcast that were going to the game and listening in that they would cover more soccer so tune in regularly? Wouldn't that help ratings?
Now, that sad state of affairs is not necessarily their fault. Most of these men (and they are mostly men) were raised on football, baseball and basketball. Their coverage of other sports, like hockey, or NASCAR or just about any other sport, sufferes in comparison to the big three leagues. These people don't understand soccer and can't break it down quantitatively since the game is a qualitative enterprise. How do you describe the one goal in a game, or the events leading up to it? How can you convey a game that was lopsided in possession and play, yet still have the dominant team lose because their opponents were able to make their three shots count?
Take a look at the people who cover soccer full time for major newspapers or networks. Most of them have one or two things in common. They are either young-as in under 35, or they are foriegn born. I think that in 20 years, soccer will be huge in this country. Because the leading sports writers will have grown up on a steady diet of the sport, either through having played it or having covered it for a long time. Once the major dailies and the networks get beyond the single player hype (Beckham anyone) and concentrate on the quality of other players and the quality of play, figure out how to report it, and then hype the game through the players rather simply hyping the players, you will see much better soccer reporting.
By way of example, Peyton Manning is by all accounts a Hall of Fame quarterback, and rightfully so. His accomplishments on the field and his self-deprecating style off the field make him a star. But football has existed for long before he took his first snap under center and will exist long after he has retired. People understand the superlatives bandied about by Manning, but also understand that he cannot accomplish anything without teammates who help the Colts win, recievers who can gather in his wonderful passes, linemen and running backs who can stop defenses from pummeling him like some second rate David Carr.
The LA Galaxy could be a good team, in a about two years. Right now, though, with or without Beckham, they are not as quality a team as say the Houston Dynamo or the New England Revolution. In last Thursday's match in the monsoon in Washington, Beckham was joined on the field by three players of similar quality and perhaps more excitment in the run of play--DC United's Luciano Emilio and Fred (two of the most prolific scorers in MLS) and LA's own Landon Donovan. There is no doubt to Beckham's skill on a dead ball situation and he may be one of the world's best in free kicks. But Beckham himself cannot win games without 10 other players on the field with him and once soccer coverage in America begins to understand that, the better off the sport will be.